By Ed Malin
The play Generic Magic Realism is a bit of a joke that turned into a serious political and scientific quest.
One day I was thinking about how much I like the novels of Gabriel Garcia Márquez and others who use “magical” circumstances and characters to make a point about either the beauty of life or (more subtly) the oppression that comes from dictatorships. But after 500 pages, the stuff starts to get on my nerves and make me cry bullshit. Why is that? Is it just me envying the largely Latino universe from which these writings have emerged?
I recently asked a Chilean-American writer I know about magic realism and he replied that the levitating grandmothers and other ridiculous characters in Isabel Allende’s novels beg for satirical treatment. I took this response to be a reflection of national pride, arguing that there is definitely something magical about South/Central America that just needs to be better understood. Also, while I am not living under a dictator, I just lived through an election year, watched a lot of Middle Eastern leaders losing their grip, and noticed that Palestine was recognized as a state before Puerto Rico. Good stories about the truth (which is what dictators like to erase) are very much in need.
I began writing about a young man who doesn’t mind leaving his birthplace to find out what his life is for. He happens to be exiting Chile in 1968, not long before that country’s people (by a small margin) voted for a Marxist candidate, whom the U.S. promptly crushed. This man, Octavio, just knows he is the only Latino who can’t sing. He more than makes up for this by having visions about the universe, but how is that supposed to make him feel better? He gets a job on a boat hauling the regional cash crop, bird guano, which brings him to California. How does Psychedelic San Francisco compare with the magical South?
I found that no matter how odd I made the quest, Octavio found it worth pursuing. After all, at that time there were lots of people going to San Francisco to find themselves. Is taking dope magical? Is gay liberation magical? I want the audience to decide, but there I found myself under attack by the animal kingdom.
There are no flightless birds in the Northern Hemisphere. All of them are extinct. Why is there such diversity in the Southern Hemisphere? It’s not just the Galapagos, there are other unique flightless species all around the Southern Hemisphere. There are also more non-extinct indigenous cultures in South America, and they have lots of exciting bird stories.
So Octavio is not an idiot of the Forrest Gump or Prince Myshkin variety. Octavio is simply finding out how to live in the real world, which I think is a much harder proposition. To emphasize this, I’m leaning towards these selections for pre-show music: “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (Gaye/Terell), “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (U2), “Real Real Real” (Jesus Jones), “Ordinary World” (Duran Duran). The real world may very well achieve perfect balance—like the religious tolerance found in Serbia for 500 years—and then lose it. Yes, much harder than a magical fairy tale. More complex, requiring the participation of lots of people. Dictators intimidate people but then again the average person seems to have a short attention span for current events. I created a 45-minute show to express what I like reading about in 500-page books. I am confident that even if you wander in expecting magic tricks, you will be blown away by Nat Cassidy’s theatrics and DeLisa White’s directives. They teamed up to win a NY Innovative Theater Award for 2011’s Things At The Doorstep: An Evening of Horror Based on the Works of H.P. Lovecraft.